Being Selfish: Finding Time To Write

Stress

At least I’m not as stressed as these guys. (Photo credit: topgold)

My time management has been shit lately. Part of it’s because of summer—more nice weather, more stuff to do outside, more rescheduling of other things in order to accommodate vacations and visits and the like. Everything from the gym to movie dates to blood donation times is getting moved around, shuffled into a new place like one of those sliding tile puzzles.*

And in all this reorganizing, guess what gets pushed off to the side?

Those of you who guessed ‘writing’, step forward and claim your prize: a narrow-eyed glare from yours truly.**

Despite the increase in daylight hours, there still doesn’t seem to be enough time in a single day to do everything I need to get done. How you people with kids do it, I have no fucking clue, but I salute you and wonder how you manage not to leave the little time-sinks on the side of the road somewhere. I feel like I need an extra couple of hours every cycle just to stay on top of things. Not much. Two extra hours, that’s all I ask. I need more time.

So, how do we do it? When life looms in all its overwhelming glory, a tidal wave of obligation and desire threatening to swamp you, how are we supposed to find more time to make things up?

Difficult question. But least the solution is simple, and like all simple solutions, fucking tricky to implement: you make the goddamned time.

Life will always get in the way. Always. It’s kind of what it does. The question is not how do you stop life from doing that, because that’s like trying to stop the tide, but how do you deal with it when it does?

So we make the time. We reorganize. We stay up late, we get up early. We steal handfuls of minutes from otherwise boring tasks—standing in line to pay parking tickets, sitting on a bus, waiting for supper to cook. We take back lost time.

And, yeah, sometimes that means being selfish. Taking a morning and locking yourself in your room or your office or your underground bunker with a ‘Do Not Fucking Disturb’ sign on the door. Saying, “Sorry, can’t go out tonight, I’m staying in to work on a project. Maybe next week?” Making the time by sacrificing something else. Not forever, but for now.

Because if you really want something, you’ll make the time. And if you find that you can’t, then maybe you should be questioning how much you want it in the first place.

*Which I always hated, for what it’s worth.
**Didn’t say it was a good prize.

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On Wonder

Hogsmeade as seen in the films

Dude, we were there. It was awesome.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent most of the last week in Orlando*, having a vacation with the Husband. As it was both of our first time in the place, we did a bunch of the usual touristy stuff. Theme parks and shopping, mostly. And lying by the pool in our swim suits, smiling every time we remembered the snow on the ground at home.**

Our personal favourite, and the one that was on our list over all the Disney stuff, was Universal Islands of Adventure. For career nerds like us, this was awesome. We drank Butterbeer, screamed at the T-rex, and got our pictures taken with Marvel villains***. It was a great day.

One of the best parts was wandering through the Harry Potter section, where they built a nice chunk of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts itself.  It’s very impressive, though crowded. I’ll admit that I daydreamed about writing something that would inspire such a real-world homage. What writer wouldn’t love that? Well, maybe some of the literary crew, but let’s face it: no one will ever make a Gravity’s Rainbow theme park.

Everywhere I went in that part, I saw kids—and adults, too, though it was less common there—who looked bloody awestruck.**** They were amazed to just be there, to be in a place that they’d imagined so many times. A place that, until quite recently, existed only inside the pages of a book and their own heads. There was a great sense of wonder about those people.

And, on the other hand, there were people who looked fucking bored. Teenagers, mostly, and of that particular age where showing enthusiasm for anything is second only to wearing last year’s hideous trend in the hierarchy of social ridicule. They’d seen stuff like this before. They were jaded, cynical. Honestly, they looked like they’re rather be elsewhere.

These were the two sides of the park: wonder and cynicism. And, given the choice, I’ll take wonder any day. It’s the font of all creativity, because what person would ever undertake to create anything without it? It’s the first step that takes you into the long fall from the cliff.

Don’t get me wrong: the theme parks are very clear that they exist only to part you from your wallet. The fact that every ride exits through a gift shop reinforces this, as do the prices for just about everything. But that didn’t matter to some people. All that mattered was that their imagination had come to life around them, and they were happy. They had chosen wonder. And that’s the same wonder you can get from a good book, or a beautiful view, or an amazing piece of machinery.

Cynicism is always easier than wonder. But wonder makes the world awesome again, no matter how old you are. And who doesn’t want more of that in their life?

*Yes, I was away again. My ninja posting skills fool all.
**Which I just got in from shovelling. On the upside, it was a good way to burn off some of the junk I ate on vacation.
***Yes, just villains, though there were heroes about. Up to you what you want to read into that.
****All right, we were those people, too. The ones giggling and pointing at things and just watching.

I Can’t Control Time Yet: How to Prioritize

He's a loving god, but don't push it.

He’s a loving god, but don’t push it.

You ever feel like there’s not enough hours in the day?

Not that I’m complaining about the construction of our diurnal cycle—that would be critical of the universe itself, which just seems ungrateful, even considering how it dropped the ball on the construction of things like the common coffee table corner—but I really feel like I could go for a thirty hour day. That would be ideal. The extra six hours would provide me with enough time to get all my stuff done and hang out with people. Also, I might finally get around to organizing my closets, which would be nice.

But, no. The universe once again refuses to conform to my specifications. This will not do.

Because, goddamn it, I have shit that needs to get done. Words to write, deadlines to meet, asses to kick. And then there’s winter, which eats up a significant amount of time with its constant demands for shovelling and salting and sacrifices to the Sun God* to bring back spring.

So, how to fit it all in?

I can’t, unfortunately. Because, despite my best efforts and the report card comments of some of my more frustrated teachers, I am still human. So now it becomes about prioritizing. I divide the day up into chunks of time. One is the amount of time I need to spend on paid work and keeping life running. Another is the amount I spend on less-urgent projects, like sandbox writing, research, or brainstorming. And the last is the amount I need to stay a functioning human being through things like exercise, social interaction, and trying to wipe out humanity using a variety of plagues.**

All three are important. Burn out comes when one categories eats all the others and uses their corpses to power its own insane machinations. So, yes, I could get technically get more done if I cannibalized social time for paid work, or even sandbox writing, since that often leads to paid work, but that’s only time I’m stealing from myself. Time that I need to stave off the inevitable slide toward super-villainy.

This is a pretty good system. I get most things done. I get all the important things done, important being defined a little differently every day. Do I get as much done as I want? No, but I suspect that if I stopped time itself and used that to get through my lists of stuff, I still wouldn’t be satisfied. As it is, this lets me get my writing done, have a life, and be reasonably well-adjusted.

And, hey, that’s about all any of us can ask. At least until time falls under my sway.

*Our household Sun God is actually a small stuffed toy that I got from a fast-food restaurant about ten years ago now. His name is Ra-Ra, the Two-Faced God. We sacrifice candy to him.
**I should point out that this is a game I play on my iPhone called Plague, Inc. Very catchy, though not as catchy as the stuff I make with it. Last night I destroyed humanity with a virus called Teddy Bears.

Four Types of Books On Everyone’s Summer Reading List

"Study drawing shows the allegorical figu...

“God, I can’t believe I have 49 more shades of grey to get through. Maybe reading in the nude will make this seem like less of a piece of shit.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When temperatures rise and the television becomes a hopeless vortex of reruns and boredom, people start turning to books again. Most people have a stack that they want to get done between the end of June and the beginning of September. Well, to help you get organized, here’s a list of the four most common specimens:

1. That Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read: Everyone’s got one. It can usually be identified by its presence on a bookshelf, covered in dust, but with a curiously pristine spine. No dog-eared pages, no coffee stains, no notes in the margins. Usually weighs more than the cat, or possibly two cats if you picked up this particular book in a lit class in university. You know it’ll be good for you to read it. Hell, it’s a fucking classic! People are probably judging you right now because you haven’t read it. You’ve just got to get around to it. And maybe stop using it to prop up your couch. Chances of completing: 1/6, unless Armageddon happens and there’s nothing else to do. Then 1.25/6.

2. That Book You Pretend You’re Not Reading: You’re so fucking embarrassed to be reading this one. Often sketchy, incredibly popular but also hated, this is the book you badmouth on the internet. But you heard so much about it that eventually your curiosity got the better of you and you started reading. You’d just die if anyone caught you reading this, which is why you either do it on an e-reader, so no one can see the cover, or in the privacy of your own home. In bed. Under the covers. With a flashlight. Chances of completing: 5/6, but you’ll develop a nervous twitch.

3. The Wild Card: It lured you in with its flashy cover and catchy title, and you added it to the stack. Now it’s time for it to prove what it’s made of or get the fuck out of Dodge. Chances of completing: Roll a dice. Take off two points if the protagonist has an endearingly obscure hobby (luthier, competitive origami, artisanal sex-swing constructor) or if the words ‘nuclear reactor’ are involved anywhere in the back cover copy. Add one if there’s lots of sex/violence/witty dialogue.

4. The Old Favourite: You’re read this book so many times it’s falling apart. Rounded corners, broken spine, herds of old book marks lost in the pages…but you love it anyway. Maybe the summer you first read it, you were having a good one. Or maybe it’s just a damn good book. Either way, when the mercury rises, you find yourself searching your shelf for it once again, thinking that maybe this is the year you finally update to a new copy, one that isn’t held together with a rubber band and a prayer. But you never do, until it finally gives up the ghost and drops into a watery grave in the kiddie pool. Farewell, old friend. Chances of reading: 6/6, and then you’re going to have to buy a new copy and give the old one a proper burial.

Brunch, Hockey, and Piping Hot Crazy: My Sunday

 

Sunday Morning

Is that BACON? You don't deserve bacon, Lazy Pants. (Photo credit: jspaw)

I’m starting to think that I’m incapable of taking time off.

As per last week’s deadline, I finished the revisions on the current Big Editing Project on Saturday, a whole day before the time I allotted ran out. Don’t get me wrong, there was more stuff I could have done, but it was getting to the point where I was changing a single word and then changing it back an hour later. That territory is called obsession, and it gets a little weird in there. I should know; I’ve been there before.

So I finished Saturday night, and decided to take Sunday off. This is unusual for me; the last time I actually decided to take a day off was when my friend got married in September. (Note: this doesn’t include times when I wanted to, but couldn’t work, such as days spent driving across the province. It’s hard to type and drive, but if there was a way…) If I wasn’t writing, I was doing research, or thinking about characters, or something.

But not Sunday. I slept in, made brunch for some friends, and then spent five hours watching playoff hockey. It was a good day.

And then, just about the time the third period was winding down, I started to get restless.

You should be working, said part of my brain. You have some more ideas. Get started on those before they get away.

I ignored it and watched a Gordie Howe hat trick develop on the TV.

This is a waste of time, said the brain. You need to CREATE ALL THE THINGS.

I further ignored it, helped by a glass of scotch.

If you don’t spend every waking second of your life writing, you’re never going to make it as a writer. You think Joe Hill* wastes time watching hockey? Nuh-uh. He probably doesn’t even sleep. Stop being so fucking lazy and get back to work.

I turned up the volume, hoping to drown it out as yet another giant fight erupted on the ice.

IF YOU DON’T GET BACK TO WORK THIS SECOND THEN I’M NEVER GOING TO THINK OF ANYTHING WORTH WRITING EVER AGAIN AND YOU’LL DIE FILLED WITH REGRET ABOUT THAT SUNDAY AFTERNOON YOU TOOK OFF TO ENJOY LIFE.

I finished the game. And then watched Sportscentre.

Every now and then, I have to force myself to do this. To take a day and consciously choose not to do any writing, or anything related to writing. This includes, but is not limited to: research, character studies, editing, reading (anything I wrote, at least. Stuff other people wrote is okay.), rehearsing dialogue out loud to myself in the bathroom, imagining characters doing whatever I’m doing, and making notes to myself about new stories.

And it’s fucking hard.

But I’m always glad I do it. Partially because it reminds me that there is a hell of a lot more to my life that putting words in order.

And partially because, when that day is over and a new one begins, I am so bloody hungry to get back to writing that it reminds me why I do it to begin with. It quiets the part that sees it as a means to an end, or a long pointless slog. It prevents burnout and lights the fire again. And it reminds me why I love it.

Healthy? Probably not. But I’m okay with it.

(*Apologies to Mr. Hill. His was just the book that was on my coffee table as I sat down to write this. I have no idea if he watches hockey or not. I imagine he sleeps, though. Probably.)